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August 15, 2020

Accused doctor pleads not guilty

SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz neurosurgeon facing 10 felonies for allegedly sexually abusing three children pleaded not guilty in Santa Cruz County Superior Court Friday.

James Kohut, 57, will return to court on June 27 to set his preliminary hearing. Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar will also consider a motion at that time by state officials to suspend his medical license.

Kohut is accused of participating in sex acts on children with nurses Rashel Brandon, 42, and Emily Stephens, 29.

The case against the three was launched when Brandon’s husband brought a video of those sex acts to the Watsonville Police Department.

Brandon was also in court Friday but made no motions. She also has a June 27 court date. She is in custody at Santa Cruz County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Brandon and Kohut, both shackled and wearing jail garb, briefly glanced at each other when Kohut entered the courtroom, and then quickly looked away again.

Stephens was arrested at her residence in Pima County, Ariz. on May 12. She is being held without bail there. She has denied the charges and plans to fight extradition, normally a 90-day process.

Authorities have taken seven children into protective custody, ranging from 3 to 13, but have not said how the children are related to the suspects.

Also still unclear is how the trio knew each other.

Kohut also appears to have changed attorneys. Santa Cruz defense attorney Jay Rorty will reportedly be retained to defend the doctor.

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Anyone with information is asked to call Watsonville Police Detective Naim Figueroa at 768-3355, or at [email protected] They may also call the anonymous tip line at 768-3544 or the non-emergency dispatch number at 471-1151.

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